The next Liberal leadership contest will be a real race, says party president Mike Crawley.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Crawley said he had already met with six or seven prospective candidates, including former and sitting MPs, discussing the rules for the race.
“They want to know what they are getting into and whether they can be competitive,” Crawley said.
The party has established a rules and expense committee that is expected to report in late June or early July on deadlines and spending limits.
The party’s board of directors will also decide in early June whether or not interim Liberal leader Bob Rae will be allowed to run, and if so, whether or not he’ll need to step down and when he'll have to declare his intentions.
Rae is widely believed to be after the leadership, despite taking the interim position on the condition that he would not use it as a platform to campaign for the permanent top job. Other prospective candidates have expressed concerns that, due to his position, Rae would have an unfair advantage in the race.
The board will also set a date for the race or narrow the window currently set to between March and June 2013.
“The goal of all of this is to create a certain level of certainty so any prospective candidates can, before the summer begins, … have an understanding of what the rules are, what the landscape is and make a decision on whether they’ll come forward as a candidate,” Crawley said.
On the one-year anniversary of their crushing electoral defeat, the Liberal Party is announcing Wednesday a new effort to connect with Canadians and make the party more relevant, financially sound and electable.
The Grits are creating a new category of support, so-called 'Liberal supporters,’ who will be able to vote during next year’s leadership race.
Any Canadian who isn’t a member of another political party and is interested in the Liberals will be encouraged to sign up. The party will start communicating with their supporters, asking them for feedback and collecting information in order to improve Liberalist, a voter identification database that is weaker than the Conservatives’ and NDPs’ and could allow the party to engage in targeted campaigns and fundraising drives.
Crawley said the goal is not to get people’s information to immediately bombard them with fundraising requests, but to build a relationship of trust and find potential donors down the line.
“The idea is to make this as unintimidating as possible. We’re not looking to get every data point on an individual, we are looking to kind of get as many contacts and begin building a relationship. It’s like any human relationship,” Crawley said.
People don’t want to be part of political parties anymore, he added, saying this was an innovative way to bring people who don’t want to be members and activists within the party fold.
Many delegates at the Liberal convention in January, where the idea of supporters was first discussed and voted on, raised concerns that their party could be swarmed by political rivals seeking to influence the outcome of a leadership race.
Crawley confirmed the party has no way of verifying whether a Liberal supporter who pledges they have no membership with another party is telling the truth
“We rely on them saying that they are not a member of another political party,” he said. But, he added, it is a lot easier to hijack a political party with a few thousand members than to hijack a movement with who knows how many supporters.
Now that the party is in third place, Crawley said, it needs experiment and take risks in order to rebuild. If few Canadians join as Liberal supporters it wont' be the end of the world, he suggested.
“The party’s goal is to ensure there is a robust, dynamic, open, competitive, transparent leadership contest with multiple candidates that will both engage Canadians through the supporters category or class but also have a very vigorous debate about ideas and about the direction of the party going forward.”
It's was extreme makeover time for the Liberal Party of Canada at its <a href="https://www.facebook.com/AlthiaRaj">biennial policy convention in Ottawa</a>. Here's a half-dozen hot topics the 2,600 delegates debatedor decided.<br><br> Photo: CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld<br><br> <i>With files from CBC.</i>
UPDATE: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/14/liberal-convention-2012-ottawa_n_1206071.html?ref=canada&ref=canada">Leadership speculation swirled at the Liberal convention</a>. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty ruled out a run and his brother David said he was considering a campaign. Former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon also attracted attention by hosting a hospitality suite, encouraging some to argue he must be considering a bid for the party's top job. Former astronaut and MP Marc Garneau is also said to be considering a bid. Of course, current interim leader Bob Rae continued to be the primary focus of leadership rumours.<br><br> He's the interim leader for now, but after Wednesday's barnburner of a speech to his Parliamentary caucus, those inclined to think he also wants to be the permanent leader had fresh fuel for their burning suspicions. Will more signs emerge over the convention weekend? Will other potential candidates for the permanent leadership stand up and say something about their own ambitions?<br><br> Photo: CP
UPDATE: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/mike-crawley-liberal-convention-2012-ottawa_n_1207459.html?1326654076&ref=canada#s612012&title=_Whos_Running">Mike Crawley was elected President of the Liberal Party of Canada</a> at the biennial convention in Ottawa.<br><br> Will it be Mister President (Mike Crawley) or Madame President (Sheila Copps)? Or do the media pundits have it wrong and delegates are prepared to elect one of the other two contenders? Will the party elect someone with radical ideas for reform or someone more comfortable with the party's established path? The presidency vote could become a proxy for the bigger tug of war touching nearly every aspect of the convention -- how ready is the party to embrace change?<br><br> Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn
UPDATE: Maryanne Kampouris was elected National Policy Chair at the Liberal convention in Ottawa.<br><br> Five party activists are in the running to helm the party's quest to redefine its policy platform before the next election, including one (20-year old Zach Paikin, above) who can't personally remember not just Liberal glory days in the seventies, but any of the party's history prior to Jean Chrétien's leadership. What coherent vision will emerge from the race for the chair and from policy resolutions delegates will debate on the floor.
UPDATE: The Liberal party <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/liberal-vote-legalize-marijuana_n_1207388.html?ref=canada">voted for the resolution to legalize marijuana</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/liberals-stand-behind-the_n_1207370.html?ref=canada&ref=canada">against the resolution to cut ties with the monarchy.</a><br><br> Speaking of youth and policy debates ... a range of ideas are up for discussion at this convention, including some more radical ideas originating with the youth wing of the party, such as dropping the Queen as Canada's head of state in favour of a Canadian-born figurehead and the legalization and regulation of marijuana. If the delegates go for some of the more exotic policy ideas, will that capture some excitement in the eyes of the voting public?<br><br> Photo: PA
Was the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/10/lise-st-denis-ndp-join-liberals_n_1196406.html">defection of Quebec MP Lise St-Denis from the NDP</a> a one-off, or the start of a trend? If Quebec is up-for-grabs as pollsters suggest, what strategy do the Liberals have to capitalize on that opportunity and try for a return to the party's glory days of dominating the province's politics? Can their brand be saved in Quebec?<br><br> Photo: Alamy
If it starts with "re-" it was probably a theme at this convention ... which might explain the giant letters displayed at the entrance to the convention centre. If the party wants a rebirth, it has to reform in order to rebuild. To do that, it may need to recycle some past hits, but the party's regeneration will require fresh ideas, too. To avoid re-igniting past tensions, Liberals will need to avoid repeating their past mistakes. Job one is restoring the party in the minds of voters as the best alternative to the governing Conservatives. And that means renewal.<br><br> Photo: Getty